How Do DNA and RNA Fold into Compact Structures?

Nucleic acids, the building blocks of DNA and RNA, are essential to life, yet a detailed understanding of these diverse and complex macromolecules remains beyond reach. Many of the most important roles of nucleic acids, and therefore DNA and RNA, rely on the ability to fold into compact structures. Examples of these structures include chromatin, the dense material that makes up chromosomes, where proteins package DNA into small units known as nucleosome core particles. For RNA, interactions with positively charged partners allow RNA to fold into functional structures.

Lois Pollack, Applied and Engineering Physics, is working to understand how biologically essential partners interact with, affect, and control the structures of DNA and RNA.

Much is known about the double-stranded duplex regions of both DNA and RNA structures. For DNA Pollack and her team are instead studying how proteins condense and release long duplexes into and from nucleosome core particles in the chromatin. In contrast, for RNA, which is essentially single-stranded, much less information is available about the flexible connectors that link short, rigid duplexes and enable folding, sensing, or protein binding. In both cases, innovative experimental tools are applied to measure nucleic acid conformation as well as the effect on the conformation of both protein and ionic partners. Systems of interest range from short, single-stranded regions, through independently folding RNA motifs, to large protein-DNA complexes. Understanding the mechanisms by which this folding is achieved in various structures will contribute to a breadth of inquiries across disciplines.

NIH Award Number: 1R35GM122514-01

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$1.7 Million spanning 5 years